As January comes to an end, I am pleased to say that I have already knocked one of the items off my bucket list for 2015! I've skied at one of the area's finest cross-country ski centers: Lapland Lake.
Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center
Located just about an hour north of Albany, New York, Lapland Lake is a 4-season vacation center that truly represents what an authentic Adirondack vacation is all about: family, recreation, relaxation and good clean fun! In the winter months, the Center really comes to life as both day-visitors and extended-stay guests flock to Lapland Lake to take advantage of the 50 kilometers of pristine cross-country ski trails. First opened in 1978 by former US Olympic Skier, Olavi Hirvonen, Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center now has new owners, but the atmosphere and ideals of the Nordic Center won't be changing anytime soon.
Meet the New Owners
Before I hit the trails, I had the pleasure of sitting down to meet with Kathy and Paul Zahray, the new owners of Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center. Kathy & Paul might be the new owners of the ski area, but Lapland Lake is not new to them. For the seventeen year's prior to the purchase of the ski center, Kathy and Paul vacationed at Lapland Lake every season. Their kids learned to ski on the trails here and they always felt like they were at home here... it was their "winter place."
When talking with them they laughed about the year Paul asked Kathy if they should try someplace else. Paul stated that he got a quick "No!" from Kathy. Kathy clarified that what she meant was, "Why would we? They have everything we want! They are very family oriented, the trails are groomed pristinely, they have all levels of trails... so, what I think I said was that we don't really need to try another place."
Kathy and Paul feel lucky to have gotten to know Olavi and Ann Hirvonen, the previous owners of the Lapland Lake Nordic Ski Area. When they were visitors, Olavi and Ann made them feel like they were part of the family. Now that they are the owners of the facility, they are happy that the Hirvonen's will be helping them for this season and next to make sure the transition goes seamlessly. In fact, Kathy and Paul do not intend to change much at the facility, as Kathy stated, "We have no intention of making a major change at the resort, we may do some small things like add some festivals in the fall, but as far as the cross-country ski center goes, that will remain the same." Paul added, "We have had plenty of customers and employees that tell us that they are happy that that is what we intend to do."
After speaking with Kathy and Paul, I visited the "Finnish Line" rental shop to get fitted with equipment. If you read my bucket list from 2015, then you will know that not only was I looking forward to skiing the trails at Lapland Lake, I was actually looking forward to getting back on a pair of cross-country skis after more than a 20-year hiatus. The staff in the rental shop were friendly and knowledgeable and were more than happy to help me get the equipment I needed to get out on the trails. The rental shop is stocked with both classic and skate skies. In addition, they also have a nice assortment of new skies and other skiing accessories available in the shop.
Skiing the Trails
Once I had my skis, I headed out to look over the trail map. I knew that I wasn't ready for the more challenging trails, but with such a wide variety of groomed trails available, I knew I would be able to find a nice route to meet my skill set (or lack thereof). After looking over the map, I decided that a ski out to Woods Lake and past the reindeer pen would be the perfect first outing. I latched on my skis and headed out on the "Lake Trail" which is on the eastern side of the campus.
I was surprised at how quickly I was able to start to feel somewhat comfortable on the skis, by no means did I feel as confident as I do on a pair of downhill skis, but I was able to move along the beautifully groomed trails in a way that didn't scream: "watch out... newbie on skis" (or at least I felt that way)! Just as I was told, the trails were absolutely beautiful. They were wide enough to offer both skate and classic lanes, however they were still enclosed enough that you didn't feel like you were gliding along some sort of XC super-highway.
Along the trail, I met a few people who were as happy as I was to be out enjoying the fresh snowfall that we had just received.
After meeting some new friends on the trail, I came to the intersection of the Lake Trail and Era Polku. When speaking with Kathy, she had mentioned that Era Polku was one of her favorite loops, she said that the snow on the pine trees is "absolutely beautiful." I stood at the intersection for a moment trying to decide which route I wanted to take. She did sell me on Era Polku, but the Lake was still calling my name. Since the lake is a destination for both the winter and summer guests at Lapland Lake, I thought it would be good to go scout it out and it did pass the reindeer pen and that was something else that I just had to see. After all, how often do you get to see reindeer when you are cross-country skiing?
As I continued along the Lake Trail, I began to get warm, the temperature at the time was hitting about 25° Fahrenheit, so I opted to unzip some of the vents in my ski gear. I didn't want to get too warm now for fear of getting cold later on. Woods Lake was quiet and tranquil, I could see how this would be a popular spot not only in the winter, but for summer visitors as well.
The life ring hanging in the window of a nearby cottage and the bike rack along the trail painted a picture of what this spot is like on a warm summer afternoon when guests flock here to cool off in the spring fed waters of the lake. In the summer, in addition to swimming in the lake, the trails turn into a network of mountain biking & hiking trails.
I spent a few moments taking in the beauty of the lake, then continued around the loop to head towards the reindeer pen. At this point I needed to "break trail" a little for the first time since I strapped on my skis. I immediately noticed that I was a little less comfortable out of the groomed tracks that I had quickly become accustomed to.
After regaining my stride I headed about 150 feet to the reindeer pen to meet Viima "Winter Breeze." Viima was resting peacefully when I approached, but he lifted his head to acknowledge that I was present. After taking a few photos, I headed back to the comforts of the groomed tracks. I wanted to go explore a few more trails, but I needed to get back on the road soon. I also knew that later in the day 11 buses, caring over 300 student athletes, would be arriving for one of the biggest races that the facility holds annually.
I was sad to see the ski lodge when I returned. I wished that I had time to explore more of the trails at Lapland Lake, but I knew that I would just have to plan on returning again soon. The trails and people at Lapland Lake Nordic Center are fantastic, and this is one Adirondack gem that I need to take better advantage of.
Ski & Stay
In addition to day use of the cross-country ski trails, Lapland Lake also has a variety of cozy Tupas (cottages) available for overnight and extended stay trips. In the winter, the restaurant on location serves up hot meals for lunch 7-days a week and dinner on Saturdays. Guests can also pre-order prepared meals and heat them in the full kitchen in their Tupa at their leisure. On the weekend, the snack bar in the main lodge also offers a variety of treats for you to enjoy while you warm up between your skiing adventures.
Guests at Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center can enjoy endless hours of skiing in and out of your own little winter bungalow. At night, the Lake Trail is illuminated offering you the opportunity to ski well into the evening. In addition, the campus has an ice skating rink, tubing hill and offers a variety of different schedule events like full and half-moon snowshoe tours. For more information, check out their calendar of events.